He focuses on the way in which Karachays and Cherkess (Circassians) are now locked in a dispute about what institution is to control the ancient churches surviving from Alania times. The Karachays are angry that the old churches whose establishment had nothing to do with the Russian Orthodox Church are being handed over to that institution, while the Circassians view these churches primarily as tourist sites.
The fight has grown from a local one to a political battle involving the presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus and even Moscow officials, with each side appealing to that level from which it believes it can gain the best outcome and the outsiders taking positions or not on the basis of similar calculations.
The conflict has become particularly intense, Chablin says, because a great deal of money is involved, with each side hoping to gain control of some 150 million rubles (2.3 million US dollars) in funds slated for “renovation” and thus to be in a position to hire members of its community rather than others.
As the analyst notes, this is not the only place in the region where ancient grievances are generating conflict now. He cites two: in Derbent, where various groups are locked in conflict over the restoration of a mosque even more ancient than the Alan churches; and in Stavropol kray, where there is a growing dispute over how to handle archaeological digs.
Such conflicts stay below the radar screens of most people beyond the region; but they have the ability to trigger or at least exacerbate contemporary disputes and thus must be tracked in order to predict where conflicts will break out in force. This is no small challenge, and it is one that few appear up to meeting.